MALIBU (CBSLA.com) — A record number of sick sea lion pups have been found stranded on the beaches of Southern California, with an unprecedented 1,200 washing up in 2015 alone.
Marine biologists and rescuers say the crisis could get even worse.
The exhausted young animals have been washing ashore and struggling to stay alive all along the coast.
California Wildlife Center's Marine Program Manager Jeff Hall has been rescuing the stranded pups since January and says the event has escalated into a crisis.
"I would personally consider this a crisis," Hall said. "Most of them came in to us approximately 20 to 30 pounds or so. At this age, they should all weigh between 45 to 60 pounds."
Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the warming of the water, which is currently 2-5 degrees above normal for this time of year, may be related.
The higher temperature causes fish to swim deeper into cooler water and out of the reach of the young sea lion pups.
The epidemic has prompted a number of volunteers to step forward, including celebrity tattoo artist and television personality Kat Von D, who recently signed up to volunteer.
"Even after my first day of volunteering, I went onto my Twitter and I was posting pictures," Von D said. "I think there's a lack of awareness of what's going on in the environment."
Despite the tragedy surrounding the circumstances, officials are warning the public not to make direct contact with the animals or even get too close to them.
"We always suggest people stay 50 feet away from a marine mammal that's on shore," Hall said.
Getting to close to the pups may cause life-threatening stress for them, experts say.
The California Wildlife Center, meanwhile, says it has maxed out on their facility's capacity, and that they have no more room.
Workers are racing to rehabilitate the animals and release them back into the sea to make room for new ones.
For more information on volunteer opportunities or donations, please visit the California Wildlife Center's website here.
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